Book of the week: The Case Against the Sexual Revolution by Louise Perry


Is sexual freedom really as liberating as it sounds? That, said Gaby Hinsliff in The New Statesman, is the question posed by Louise Perry’s new book, “which tips a brisk bucket of cold water over what’s sometimes called ‘sex-positive’ feminism, or the idea that anything goes between two consenting adults and that desire should not be policed”.

Unfortunately, Perry argues, this form of liberation has chiefly liberated men. She compares the sexual revolution “to an unfettered capitalist free market, creating an explosion of opportunities for some” – largely for men seeking commitment-free, sometimes aggressive sex – but condemning the rest to “exploitation and insecurity”.

Plenty of books have denounced “pornified” culture, but the “full-throated boldness” of this one sets it apart. Some of Perry’s views are “uncompromisingly retro”: she recommends waiting for a few months before having sex, only getting drunk in the company of trusted friends, and embracing the security of marriage. “You don’t have to agree with her entire world-view to find it thought-provoking.”

Perry has been compared to Mary Whitehouse, but she is “no prude”, said Suzanne Moore in The Daily Telegraph, In her younger days she saw nothing wrong with porn and bondage. What changed her mind was working in a rape crisis centre and discovering the reality of sexual violence. Her most radical argument is that rape is hardwired into some males, for evolutionary advantage, and that porn, booze and dating apps have created the perfect environment for it. “Perry’s answers are not mine”, but this “clear-sighted” book asks the right questions.

Perry’s “crisply readable” polemic presents the world as a scary place where casual sex is fraught with risks, said Susie Goldsbrough in The Times. But her advice that women should avoid it seems both unfair and impractical: a large proportion of rapes are domestic; one in two rape victims are or were in a relationship with their attacker. Even so, her account of the risks of porn culture is very persuasive: the rise of “rough sex” defences in murder cases is alarming, and the book makes a cast-iron link between that and the gigantic internet porn industry.

Most feminist tracts are fact-free and choked with jargon, said Rachel Cooke in The Observer, so it’s extraordinary to find one that not only presents radical ideas but is well-researched and crystal clear. Provocative, urgent and brave, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution “may turn out to be one of the most important feminist books of its time.”

Polity Press 200pp £14.99; The Week Bookshop £11.99

The Week Bookshop

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